Friday, January 25, 2008

an enigma on plates of gold

[an updated version of this is now posted at the exponent]

[This is a photo of what my Book of Mormon looks like inside.]

Something I have struggled with, as I re-negotiate my faith in the church, is to find the exact location of the Book of Mormon in the grand scheme of my personal beliefs. Being that this year in Sunday School we are studying the Book of Mormon, I have now sat through at least a couple of lessons about how it is the keystone, how 'if it is not what we say it is, than everything else is a lie too'. Well, I do not believe the Book of Mormon is what 'they' say it is. Then again, I don't believe the all-or-none rhetoric surrounding it either.

What an enigma it is, the Book of Mormon, claiming to be a history of an ancient people on the american continent and also a religious book, containing the teachings of Jesus and his prophets. The account it weaves is extensive giving details of monetary exchange rates, record keeping practices, war strategy, political maneuvering, and the discovery of earlier civilizations; along with prophesies about the birth of Jesus (most 600 years before his actual birth), accounts of the formation of christian churches, and theological treatises on subjects like faith, baptism, receiving answers to prayers, and the atonement of Christ. It is a tale of epic proportions, produced in a very short amount of time by an 'uneducated' man in his early twenties. That, of course is a big arguing point of true believers; Joseph Smith could NEVER had made this all up, never in a million years! On the other hand, the historical and scientific evidence against the Book of Mormon is hard to ignore, like the doubtful DNA link between native americans and Israelites, and the lack of archeological evidence for the kind of civilization described in the Book of Mormon.

George Cannon (father of Elder George Q Cannon) said about the Book of Mormon "an evil man could not have written it, and a good man would not have written it unless it were true and he was commanded by God to do so." [Paraphrased.]

An anti-mormon Baptist missionary I once ran into said the Book of Mormon was the most trivial piece of trash he had ever read.

Mark Twain called the Book of Mormon 'Chloroform in print' because of it's ability to cause him to fall asleep.

And personally, the Book of Mormon has put me to sleep quite a few times.

Then again, at other times, it has captivated me, caused my soul to burn.

I've read the Book of Mormon about eight times. Once or twice before my mission, several times during, and a few more times afterwards. I had passage upon passage memorized (including the whole book of Enos.) I had never doubted it's authenticity. Ever.

Then a few years ago, when President Hinkley issued the challenge for everyone to read the Book of Mormon cover to cover, I found something had changed. Every time I sat down with the book to work on that goal, I found myself increasingly disturbed and angry when I read. Sometimes down right hostile. Eventually I realized it would just be better if I gave it a rest, and put the book away indefinitely. Others would talk about how much their testimony had been increased by fulfilling that challenge, and I would just nod and not say anything because for me, it seemed, reading the book was destroying my testimony.

That testimony still got shattered. And I find myself even more conflicted as I try to find a context for this collection of words and stories. What is the answer to the question of the Book of Mormon?

I just read this post over the the Cultural Hall, portions of an interview with Greg Prince in which he puts forth an alternate reading of the Book of Mormon. He posits: "Perhaps the most prevalent viewpoint in the church is either the Book of Mormon is a literal history of the Americas before Columbus or it’s wrong. There is an alternative somewhere between those two."

Prince goes on to suggests that perhaps the Book of Mormon is more of a revelation instead of a translation, perhaps a 'fiction' inspired by God for the purposes of teaching and helping mankind ("...a metaphorical Book of Mormon, if you will...") Prince recommends the reader "Get inside of it and grab the truth that’s in there, regardless of the form that it’s in, regardless of how it got to be in [there]."

It's a thought.
Perhaps someday I'll take up the book again with this new lens and give it another try.


andrew said...

What a great post. "Renegotiating" faith is a very difficult thing, particularly within the LDS Church.
I too, with you and Bro. Prince, hope we can move towards this "third way" of viewing the Book of Mormon.

G said...

thank-you andrew.

currently it seems this alternate way of viewing the Book of Mormon is considered quite apostate (at least to the members I have heard pontificate about it).

it will be interesting to see, long term, if the leadership and membership will move closer to this interpretation.
personally, I doubt it will happen. at least in the next 100 yrs.

JohnR said...

There may be some hints that the some authorities may get there sooner rather than later. I remember teaching a First Presidency message in which President Faust emphasized that the Book of Mormon was not a history book, but a spiritual text. When I was active, I held on to statements like that.

G said...

JohnR... thanks for stopping by :)

Something crossed my mind sunday night when I heard the news that President Hinkley passed away, now several of the General Authorities that have been so familiar to me have passed on, their places being filled with new faces.

It is a slow but inevitable changing of the guard (that has been taking place since Joseph Smith), that brings with it slow but inevitable changes in the church.

Just some thoughts from an interested observer.

EKD said...

I have no real comments other than the fact that I just really enjoyed this post and your comments, especially the changing of the guard one.

angryyoungwoman said...

Hi, I've been reading your blog, but I don't think I've posted before.
I'm really familiar with the feelings you express in this post. I've read the BoM so many times I've lost count. My dad gave me my first copy when I was five and I've read the scriptures every night since then (unless something like a seizure or hospitalization prevented me, even then, I'd try to have someone read to me). Still, a while back, I simply did not know what I believed. I was troubled because this turned my world upside down for me--I was sure I would disappoint my family, friends, etc. I talked about this with my counselor (who is not Mormon, but is familiar with the church). His suggestion was surprizingly simple. He simply said to start with what I like in the church and believe in the church. Having started at that point, I feel much better now. There are still things I disagree with (like the churches position on homosexuality), but I find that most of the things I didn't like were in the church culture and not in the church itself. I know your position is probably different form mine, but from what I've read on your blog, I really like you and I want you to be happy.

angryyoungwoman said...

sorry that should say that I don't think I've commented. and sorry it's so blasted long.

G said...

no need to be sorry, ayw... thanks for you comment!